Gemstones and Buying Online at Auction
Buying and selling gemstones through online auction sites allows both parties to increase their collections or working materials on -hand and to boost sales from international sources that would otherwise be relatively inaccessible except for the internet and the global virtual marketplace it has become.To protect both parties here are some generalities that should be helpful to both:
For the Buyer:
Some clues to merchantability and standards of good vs. not-to-be-trusted sellers:
Beware of stock photographs -
many sellers use dropshipping services that they simply point a mouse at and thus select their inventory. then post it with an arbitrarily made up price tag increasing the cost at least 2.5 x - or the standard retail mark-up on goods. they have neither seen ,handled or inspected the goods, nor do they know any details of the material's origins,actual grade, or who, exactly they are dealing with.
Stock photographs are incredibly clear and crisp with excellent colour (provided you have calibrated your monitor) having usually been created with microscopy at the root of the image. Sometimes right clicking in an image will show you the details of its creation or origins alternatively some images details are locked . With a bit of research and the free, WHOIS reference widget ( available from google, or firefox, etc.) you can gain a bit of insight into the creator of the image and perhaps the origin of the material, but for a quick, last minute bet on auction that is often not feasible. so if you are concerned, or the material you are seeking is priced higher than you would expect, or higher than fair market value should be, begin your strategic bet planning as soon as the material is posted for sale or auction, and wait until the last day of betting to place your bids, and if possible, wait until the last hour or so before showing your hand as bid snipers are working ,assisted by unattended software,to bet against you once they realize that there is some competition.
No Reserve Auctions and high postage and handling fees:
occasionally the NR auctions are a good way for a beginning jeweler to increase their materials inventory,gain experience with new and different stone shapes and the burs used in setting them and to increase their supply of replacement offerings for clients seeking repairs and the like. The trick here that less than reputable sellers use is to charge outlandish postal prices, or to tack on handling fees that are often the cost of the stone insuring that their costs are covered before the first bet is placed.
In higher priced Precious stones, the red flag should go up if any material is over the raPpaport value.Since you can not inspect the colour, cut and clarity nor see the stone's actual weight on a scale, or view a rap sheet or certification lab's findings before you buy, your only option is to contact the seller before placing a bet and ask for a facsimile of the documentation on a stone be sent to you ( eBay annonymizes your address by checking the box under the 'message to seller' block in which you compose your question(s)). After reading and verifying its authenticity with the lab or certifying institution you can then decide if it's worth the bet. Remember, that checking the sellers return policies are equally important.For instance, if it took three weeks for you to receive your parcel after paying for it, and you opted for the most reasonable and moderately fast shipping method, your turn around time would be near equivalent- so if they have a 5 or 7 day return policy , the dealer will expect that you cannot meet that cycle and you will be out the bet, and all recourse for returning the goods if they do not meet the description or resemble the photograph that was posted unless some additional insurance in the form of actual insurance on the parcel or pre-negotiating an extended return time in writing, before you bid on the parcel or stone.
Another point to watch for in bidding on gem materials on-line, is that the seller states clearly that the image is the exact stone you will receive. Many post stock photographs that look nothing like the parcels that they are offering. Many selers will argue that they "scoop" some stones out of some "bag" and that's what you get..again, red-flag! anyone scooping stones is probably mishandling a cheap parcel they are reselling.Occasionally you may establish a trade relationship with sellers that do offer 20-100 carat lots out of larger parcels from which you may be in a position to specify what you do and don't require from the parcel, such as you want all round 10-25 point stones, or you want the cuts to be perfectly matched (machine cut), or the clarity can be SI1-I1 on low grade for faceted stones...virtually anything you seek can be discussed in the messages to sellers- they either will or won't have the capacity to honour your wishes. Reputable Merchants from the Orient tend towards wanting to establish longer term relationships with you if you are in the jewelry industry rather than a private one-time purchase collector and will often make special accommodations to keep you in their clientelle than if you don't communicate your goals with them initially from a buyers perspective.
Small scale sellers that are perhaps liquidating a relative's estate or stone collection for example post lower resolution photos and often the stones are unidentifiable but countable , particularly if items are sold as lots. Some of my favorite sellers in fact take horrid photographs yet offer the best stones for the money. these small scale merchants are very eager to work with a buyer- within reason- so be concise when writing to these people as they have lives and are doing auctions as a sideline and do not always have the time to reply to one's multitudinous requests for information- though they are happy to give you any and all they have in one or two quick notes.
This gets complex if one is not in the jewelry trade. Many ebay sellers set up shops for a month or so and make an enormous number of sales then disappear and relist under other names. Ebay does nothing to stop this practice and lets the dishones sellers continue unfettered. I have personally recommended a few remedies to Ebay that thye have not implemented that would protect buyers from ridiculous postage, damaged and designed to decieve merchandise and other tricks that the unscrupulous use to lure unsuspecting buyers with promises of "solving any problem", then once a period of 30-45 days has passed the sellers is no longer a regisrtered ebay member- or is doing business under a different name.
Postage , damaged merchandise and other ways of profiting from buyers unwilling to pay return postage to receive similarly poor gem or imitation materials in some cases, is a rampant practice int he jewelry category on Ebay.It is not limited however to Foreign dealers. My most recent dissappointment was from a New York based diamond merchant- In a hastily placed bid on a 1/3 carat diamond the dealer sent out a fake "bond", that to the unsuspecting looks like a legal document. It is completely unnecessary on Ebay as your protection is in paying with PayPal and using the dispute process Ebay has in place ( though it is not without fault, as a seller can revise their description of a good even after you have bid on it -and won!). This particular seller counts on buyers not returning the damaged, abraded, chipped, included, poorly cut junk they pass off as one thing, then revise the description thereof after you bid on it. Ebay allows this to occur! This seller also refuses to communicate with buyers when there is a problem. Consequently I urge you to READ the FEEDBACK on any seller before bidding with them. Had I not hastily placed a bid and read this sellers highly negative feedback I would never have dealt with them in the first. I will not return the item as it will cost more than the junk is worth to get a replacement that will also be junk..Other buyers have sought remedy with this seller too and the seller refused to replace the gems, just to refund the bidding price, not postage.so you wind up paying three postage fees ( with this seller at least 15.00 US) and never get the material promised or described, that is if you get a response at all.
- As for the pricey gem materials on ebay 9 times out of 10 they are far too high and no where near the prices asked. There is not a centralized listing of current "spot" prices on gemstones, whether precious or semi-precious. Many gemologists put out listings that are only a guide and in a sense serves as a comodities market estimation on the prices for x material. For example, given the current disaster in Burma/Myanmar, Burmese ruby material desireable by some (though far to opaque and flawed internally in general for my purposes in jewlry design) and sapphires that come from SE Asia will be harder to get for the prices they were going for before the disaster. That is not to say buyers at the major gem shows did not stock up in winter at Tuscon, or other major channels of gem material distribution and are able to offer small stones at small prices..but larger gems that are internally flawless and consistent in colour will go up temporarily until the small scale miners can get back to production and their wares go through the main channels of distribution ( Thailand, Cambodia,India) to reach N.American markets. Chinese materials should be well scrutinized before bidding or buying. Ask the sellers questions and ask what guarantees of authenticity and sources theur materials are from.Largely gem materials in China are simulants, or worse- glass. It takes specialized equipment to discern a material's actual composition.the two easiest to perform at home are the Specific Gravity test and Refractive indexing. A bottle of refractive revelaing material is a good idea to purchase if you plan on building your collection through buying on Ebay.The solutions reveal doublets and triplets as well as other flaws or assembled materials (in a doublet ,for example, a slice of gem material is often cemented with coloured glues to a quartz cap and/or backing. When immersed in the solution one sees the thin slice and all other components of the "stone' dissappear). many gemstone trtaders are unscrupulous and out to decieve the unsuspecting buyer.Don't become one of them.If the price is too low to be true you can bet you misread fine print, or some other well hidden line that hints at the true nature of what you will receive for your money. Beware. Read. Ask Questions of the seller before buying or bidding to avoid getting taken in the end. Most important is :
- Will the stone I receive be what is pictured?
- What if I receive damaged material, will you pay for its replacement?
- Why is your postage on a stone weighing less than 1 gram 20 OR MORE times higher than the actual cost of mailing? I look up the country of origin's postal rates and confront the sellers with that information-often the rate one pays is then reduced to more reasonable postage and handling.
- You say that you are an ebay store, yet when clicking on your store link, you say that site is not an ebay site- can you explain this to me?( then report the seller to Ebay for fraud!)
- Since your postage rate is so high, can I combine other stones into the same package (particularly buy-it-now items?).If the seller refuses to combine light weight gemstones, keep on looking for what you want. I personally detest a seller falsely representing the postage costs and reasonable handling fees ( supplies cost money, but when i get a stone wrappeed in a piece of toilet paper I am not happy at having payed anything for the half-cent's worth of tissue used to protect my parcel!